Kim Il-sung Biography

Prime Minister, Military Leader, President (non-U.S.)(1912–1994)
Kim Il-sung served as premier and president of North Korea and ran the country for decades, spearheading the creation of an Orwellian regime.

Synopsis

Kim Il-sung was born on April 15, 1912, in Mangyondae, near Pyongyang, Korea, and went on to become a guerrilla fighter against Japanese occupation. Kim also fought with the Soviet army during World War II and returned to his home region to become premier of North Korea, soon setting in motion the Korean War. He was elected country president in 1972, and held the position until his death on July 8, 1994.

Background

Kim Il-sung was born Kim Song-ju in Mangyondae, near Pyongyang, the present-day capital of North Korea, on April 15, 1912. His parents took the family to Manchuria in the 1920s to flee the Japanese occupation of Korea. During the 1930s, Kim, who mastered Chinese, would become a Korean freedom fighter, working against the Japanese and taking the name Il-sung in honor of a famed guerilla fighter. Kim eventually relocated to the Soviet Union for special training, where he joined the country's Communist Party.

Kim remained in the Soviet Union from 1940 until the end of World War II, during which time he helmed a unit within the Soviet army. Kim and his first wife, Kim Jong Suk, had their son, Kim Jong Il, during this period as well.

The Korean War

After an absence of two decades, Kim returned to Korea in 1945, with the country divided as the Soviets came to power in the North while the southern half of the country became allied with the United States. Kim set up shop as chairman of the People's Committee of North Korea, the regional communist group later to be known as the Korean Workers Party. In 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was founded, with Kim as its premier.

In the summer of 1950—after strategizing and convincing his initially skeptical allies Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung of his plan—Kim led an invasion into the south looking to unify the country under northern control, thereby initiating the Korean War. American and additional United Nations military forces got involved in the conflict, with casualties from all sides, including civilian deaths, eventually reaching 1 million. The war ceased at a stalemate with a signed armistice in July 1953.

Country's 'Great Leader'

As head of state, Kim continued to have an agitative relationship with South Korea, with North Korea becoming known as a highly controlled, oppressive country whose people were allowed no contact with the West. Under a propaganda-based social fabric, Kim aimed to foster the concept of economic self-reliance and came to be known as "Great Leader." He was elected president of the country in late 1972, taking on a domestic policy that focused on militarization and industrialization. There were also hints of more peaceful relations with South Korea in the form of the Red Cross Talks.

North Korea's fortunes declined during the '70s as South Korea prospered, and foreign aid from the Soviet Union ceased when the Cold War came to a close. With concerns about North Korea's nuclear program mounting, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter met with Kim in 1994 to talk about the possibility of aid from the West in exchange for a halt in the country's weapons program. Kim had also made plans for a historical meeting with South Korean leader Kim Young-Sam. Kim died in Pyongyang on July 8, 1994, allegedly from a heart condition, before the summit could take place.

Kim Il-sung's son, Jong Il, took over leadership of the country until his death in 2011. Jong Il was then succeeded by his own son, Kim Jong-un.

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